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Lawn grass: expensive, difficult, fickle … Or lush, green, diverse, interesting, carpet of ground cover. It’s all in how we see it. In Zen, as in business, there is beauty and success in the mundane and simple. The Minimalist Gardener approaches the challenge of the grass lawn with common sense and purpose.
Minimalist principles set our agenda:
• No herbicide or pesticide
• Never remove organic matter from the property
• Nurture and encourage diversity of plants and wild flowers as part of the lawn
• Use gentle cultivating techniques and tools
• Remove undesirable, out-of-place plants by hand
• Seek to maximize the exercise value of the lawn care experience
Once again, wife Teresa awakened the Minimalist Muse. Teresa is a traditionalist in the strongest sense when it comes to the lawn. She has the prevailing preconceived notion that a lawn is a flawless patch of grass all the same shade of green and cut short. This is a challenge for a Minimalist Gardener. Her legitimate expectation and the practical nature of the minimalist approach both must be satisfied if there is to be lawn Nirvana in the Minimalist Garden. Full and green lawn plants are an important component of the Minimalist Design.
The Minimalist Method
First we survey the lawn plants. Which plants are low-lying, have attractive features and are compatible with the grasses?
The Minimalist objective is to maximize the growth of desirable plants by creating an advantage for them. The key to success is to identify the plants we do not want and carefully remove them from the lawn, one at a time.
This task can be fun and easy when undertaken with a positive attitude. In our case a certain broadleaf radiating plant covers the sleeping grass in the early spring, before the grass awakens. This plant has an attractive white flower that beckons early pollinators that are a joy to see early in the year. However, it turns brown before summer and smothers the desirable lawn plants.
The Minimalist Gardener sees this early display as the plant’s vulnerability. It is easy to spot and has not taken firm root into the ground. A gentle tug at the base of the flower stem, where it meets the moist earth, will reward the tugger with the extraction of the radiating spread of the plant leaves and the taproot. Surprisingly, this task is not tedious. It is also really good exercise.
The Zen of the experience puts you in touch with the lawn. A little goes a long way in the Minimalist Garden, and we quickly realize that hand-picking is easy, rewarding and efficient. A sustained effort of 10 minutes can result in the removal of many targeted plants. The low-impact aerobic exercise is its own reward. The plants we do not want are composted.
After policing our most prevalent undesirables, we vigorously rake the lawn by reaching out in a circle around us. The resulting piles of dry grass and twigs makes an attractive alternative mulch for trees and shrubs. Raking also loosens the soil, and after some rain the lawn awakens, uninhibited by the adversary we so carefully removed. This is the Minimalist method.
Once the grass sends up shoots of seeds, it is time to groom the lawn. Grooming distributes the seed produced by the existing grass and evens out the bad-hair-day look of the green lawn. When it’s time to mow, set the mower at its highest level and cut along the natural contours of the lawn. Clippers and a scythe lop off the seed-laden stems that the lawn mower could not reach.
Looking at the payoff, we see the ground-cover plants in the lawn, growing bright green and full.
We are also mindful of the health benefits gained from our engagement with the lawn. Stooping, bending, walking, finger flexing, arm, hand, feet and leg movements have given our muscles a good workout.
Finally, the living and diverse organism that is our lawn is now connected to us in a way that only Grace or Zen can explain.